Suburban dads with pig heads, dead mice, road kill squirrels, and mewling premature babies – these are just some of the disturbing images that John Nolan has transformed into awesome animatronic characters. Based in London but traveling internationally, Nolan has worked on a variety of feature films including the 2009 remake of Clash of the Titans, Hellboy 2, Where the Wild Things Are, and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. He also has a healthy number of custom made commercials under his belt as well. Check out some of his mechanical armatures and fully furred creations in his fantastic show reel in the video below. Many engineers are working on creating life-like humanoid robots, but John Nolan’s work shows that there’s always room at the table for machines that mirror our imaginations more than our reality.
One of Nolan’s most successful concepts for a commercial was the following ad for ‘Nolan’s Cheddar’. If you paid close attention to the show reel, you’ll recognize the system shown at 2:08. If you didn’t pay close attention…well, good luck figuring out which parts of this are real, and which are robot.
Though it’s almost an identical clone of the first commercial, thematically speaking, the following ‘sequel’ to the Nolan’s Cheddar ad is well worth a watch. The animatronic setup here is brilliant, especially towards the end.
Nolan, as part of Street Light Films, has also worked on music videos. Here’s a remix of UNKLE’s The Runaway featuring a rather creepy robot dancer:
We’ve often made a big deal out of the pursuit of human-looking robots. Rightfully so, the replicants produced by Hanson Robotics and the Geminoids created by Hiroshi Ishiguro/ATR/Kokoro are really mind-blowing. Yet seeing Nolan’s animatronics in action reminds me of how broad the field of life-like robotics really is. These cinematic characters may not have onboard intelligence to mimic human mentality, or any hope of resembling human physicality, but they are certainly believable characters.
That may be one of the most important features a robot will need in the future if they want humans to relate to them. We may be able to accept cute rodent robots and stylized synthetic simians well before we perfect bots that realistically act like people. In fact, Nolan’s work also demonstrates that “accept” and “‘relate” don’t necessarily need to mean “feel comfortable with”. Sure, we’re going to want cute robots for our kids to play with, but maybe we’re also going to want frakkin’ terrifying robots to guard our homes. John Nolan is on my short list of designers who could handle either application. If you have your own favorite animatronic artist, feel free to share them below. I can’t get enough of these mechanical monsters.